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The great to-do list: surviving telecommuting

I live in my head.

At least that’s what I’ve been told. It means my ideas swirl around my brain in a giant maelstrom.

It also means that sometimes I have trouble wrestling through and developing some of those ideas. And sometimes, all those ideas create a stress from feeling like I have so much to do and not enough time.

And when you work from home, the ideas and plans in your head get complicated by the distractions of your personal life being within reach.

My boyfriend stepped into the mist and said ‘why don’t you try using a to-do list’.

It seems so simple, yet such a not-so-automatic step for many.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey, the author of such great productivity books as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First, placed prioritizing as the third habit.

Habit 3 is about life management and putting the first things first. When you do that, he said, you are organizing and managing time and events.

That’s what to-do lists are all about.

Here are the steps I take to master mine:

1. Throw all the ideas down on my paper. All of them, no matter whether they’re work-related or personal. I like to use Microsoft’s OneNote. Don’t forget to include the meetings on your schedule, including your weekly conference call with your team and supervisor or a webinar to learn that new product.

2. Estimate the time you’ll need to complete each task. Note that time in a different colour.

3. Now prioritize those tasks, based on their importance and the time you need to complete them. Highlight or mark with an asterisk the must-do tasks, the ones you can’t leave your desk without completing. Covey offered the Time Management Matrix to determine the tasks you need to do and decide what should take priority:

4. Grab a clean space, whether it’s a whiteboard, a new OneNote page or a StickyNote on your laptop. Make two columns: one each for work and personal.

5. Write your to-do list, starting with those most vital tasks and working your way down to the least important.

Getting all those ideas and plans down in words is a therapeutic adventure for me. There seems to be less chaos in my newly structured world and my to-do list creates space in my brain for more ideas and plans.

The abilities to get organized and prioritize tasks are integral to being more productive and, thus, being a successful telecommuter.

Management needs to be assured that our deadlines will be met and our projects will be completed with our best work possible.

And now don’t go beating yourself up at the end of the day if the to-do list, especially folding that basket of laundry, isn’t completely wiped clean.

There’s always tomorrow and a new list with more ideas waiting.

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